Don Juan on Castaneda’s Death

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

“Do you want to know what your death may be like?” he asked me with childlike delight in his face. I found his mischievous pleasure in teasing me rather comforting. It almost took the edge off my apprehension.

“O.K., tell me,” I said, and my voice cracked. He had a formidable explosion of laughter. He held his stomach and rolled on his side and mockingly repeated, ” ‘O.K., tell me,'” with a crack in his voice. Then he straightened out and sat down, assuming a feigned stiffness, and in a tremulous voice he said, “The second stage of your death may very well be as follows.” His eyes examined me with apparently genuine curiosity. I laughed. I clearly realized that his making fun was the only device that could dull the edge of the idea of one’s death.

“You drive a great deal,” he went on saying, “so you may find yourself, at a given moment, behind the wheel again. It will be a very fast sensation that won’t give you time to think. Suddenly, let’s say, you would find yourself driving, as you have done thousands of times. But before you could wonder about yourself, you would notice a strange formation in front of your windshield. If you looked closer you’d realize that it is a cloud that looks like a shiny whorl. It would resemble, let’s say, a face, right in the middle of the sky in front of you. As you watched it, you would see it moving backward until it was only a brilliant point in the distance, and then you would notice that it began moving toward you again; it would pick up speed and in a blink of an eye it would smash against the windshield of your car. You are strong; I’m sure it would take death a couple of whams to get you. “By then you would know where you were and what was happening to you; the face would recede again to a position on the horizon, would pick up speed and smash against you. The face would enter inside you and then you’d know-it was the ally’s face all the time, or it was me talking, or you writing. Death was nothing all the time. Nothing. It was a little dot lost in the sheets of your notebook. And yet it would enter inside you with uncontrollable force and would make you expand; it would make you flat and extend you over the sky and the earth and beyond. And you would be like a fog of tiny crystals moving, moving away.”

I was very taken by his description of my death. I had expected to hear something so different. I could not say anything for a long time. “Death enters through the belly,” he continued. “Right through the gap of the will. That area is the most important and sensitive part of man. It is the area of the will and also the area through which all of us die. I know it because my ally has guided me to that stage. A sorcerer tunes his will by letting his death overtake him, and when he is flat and begins to expand, his impeccable will takes over and assembles the fog into one person again.” Don Juan made a strange gesture. He opened his hands like two fans, lifted them to the level of his elbows, turned them until his thumbs were touching his sides, and then brought them slowly together at the center of his body over his navel. He kept them there for a moment. His arms shivered with the strain. Then he brought them up until the tips of his middle fingers touched his forehead, and then pulled them down in the same position to the center of his body. It was a formidable gesture. Don Juan had performed it with such force and beauty that I was spellbound. “It is his will which assembles a sorcerer,” he said, “but as his old age makes him feeble his will wanes and a moment unavoidably comes when he is no longer capable of commanding his will. He then has nothing with which to oppose the silent force of his death, and his life becomes like the lives of all his fellow men, an expanding fog moving beyond its limits.”

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